Tony Hsieh’s 4 Biggest Lessons for Founders

4 lessons from the life of a world-leading entrepreneur, worth $840 million — RIP Tony Hsieh

Nicola Thomas
Nov 28, 2020 · 4 min read
Image for post
Image for post
Image via

In the fast-paced startup culture, Tony Hsieh stood out for his unique attitude and incredible values. He was a mentor to many young entrepreneurs and an internet icon for budding founders who wanted to embrace a unique purpose-driven life.

“The biggest (and hardest) lesson I’ve learned in life is that the external world is just a reflection of the world within.” — Tony Hsieh

Hsieh had incredible success in LinkExchange, which he sold to Microsoft for $265 million in 1998. Then as the CEO of Zappos until 2020. He made a name for himself for his wisdom, and how he treated both his employees and customers with empathy.

The four biggest lessons from Tony Hsieh

  1. Consider the triple bottom line: Profits, Passion, Purpose

For Hsieh, Zappos was far more than profit-driven. He was firmly focused on the triple bottom line of passion, profit, and purpose. Beyond creating a financially sustainable business that made a profit, he was also concerned with the passion, and the purpose of the business.

“Zappos is a customer service company that just happens to sell shoes.” — Tony Hsieh

For Hsieh, it was more than just slogans. This triple bottom lined translated into industry-changing customer service. For example, once a customer service rep delivered flowers to a customer whose mum had passed away.

Once they spent 8 hours talking to a customer! This created meaningful repeat customers, with 75% of Zappos orders coming from repeat customers.

2. Company Culture is everything

It comes as no surprise then that part of the passion element of the bottom line was company culture. Hsieh was a firm believer that without having the right company culture the business couldn’t succeed.

“Our number one priority is company culture. Our whole belief is that if you get the culture right, most of the other stuff like delivering great customer service or building a long-term enduring brand will just happen naturally on its own.”- Tony Hsieh

One small example of their radical approach to company culture was the fact they would pay their employees to quit. This small practice is a big lesson and one way Zappos showed they were serious about filling their organization with people who were just as passionate and committed as they were.

Because Zappos had such a radical approach to customer service, they were honest that the customer service role can be difficult. I’ve worked in a number of call centres and it is hard — answering phones and talking to customers for hours at a time.

So when Zappos hired new employees, following a four-week fully paid training period, Zappos would make “the offer”. This was a time where they said to their new employees “If you quit today, we will pay you for the amount of time you’ve worked, plus we will offer you a $1,000 bonus.” Zappos actually bribes its new employees to quit! Simply put, they wanted people who wanted to be there. A very novel solution for customer service roles.

3. Give employees autonomy to get the job done

Unlike other online retailers, Zappos was a trailblazer in their telephone service. They plastered their 1–800 number everywhere so customers could call. What was so unique about this was that the call-centre employees had the autonomy to do whatever they deemed fit to make the customer happy.

This autonomy is rare in any business, but especially in what is often the tightly monitored world of call centres. The staff had no scripts, no time limits of calls, no robotic behaviour.

Giving staff autonomy is fundamental in creating staff satisfaction, and in the case of Zappos, this led to incredible customer service.

4. Never forget to vacation

While Silicon Valley CEO’s are often heralded as always working, Hsieh detailed in his book, Delivering Happiness, the importance of taking vacations.

Once he was scheduled to vacation to Mt. Kilimanjaro. Due to a few challenges a work he almost canceled his vacation, but everything at work turned out ok. Resultingly, the trip gave him renewed energy to pour into the business and reminded him that work is not the most important part of life.

This is an essential lesson for budding entrepreneurs. It’s so easy to get swept up in work and feel it is all-encompassing. But, never forget the important lessons from Tony Hsieh, a timely reminder that life is incredibly short and can be taken away too soon. Never forget your life outside of work, the importance of your purpose, passion, and treating people right.

Rest in peace to an icon and hero of many, Tony Hsieh.

Connect with Nicola on Instagram, or for long-form exploration of ideas and feelings sign up to Nicola’s monthly newsletter, Et cetera, here.

Nicola Thomas

Written by

PhD researcher interested in entrepreneurship, psychology & emotions, technology, and politics. Join my newsletter:

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +756K people. Follow to join our community.

Nicola Thomas

Written by

PhD researcher interested in entrepreneurship, psychology & emotions, technology, and politics. Join my newsletter:

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +756K people. Follow to join our community.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store